BY: TREVOR HEWITT
Sure, antibiotics kill harmful bacteria – but at what cost?
The loss of healthy stomach bacteria for up to a year, apparently.
As antibiotic-resistant superbugs like MRSA and certain strains of E. coli become increasingly common, researchers are spending more time on understanding the benefits – and possible drawbacks – of antibiotics.
A recent study published in mBio has determined that even a weeklong course of antibiotics can drastically alter the levels of an individual’s healthy stomach bacteria.
It’s a surprising yet salient reminder of a simple yet often-forgotten fact – antibiotics attack all bacteria – including the beneficial kind.
The placebo-controlled study included 66 healthy adults from the United Kingdom and Sweden. Participants were given one of four common antibiotics or a placebo for a week. Researchers then analyzed levels of bacteria in participants’ mouths and stomachs, both before and shortly after the initial course of antibiotics. They repeated this process at one, two, four and 12 months after, to determine the long-term effects of antibiotics on healthy bacteria in humans.
Researchers found that, for all but one of the antibiotics used, microbial diversity of participants’ stomachs was significantly altered – sometimes for months. Effects varied, depending on what antibiotic was administered. Those given clindamycin showed reduced microbiome diversity for up to four months; for those who took ciprofloxacin, levels were still reduced at the 12-month checkup.
Amoxicillin had no significant effect on healthy stomach bacteria, while minocycline-takers’ levels were back to normal by the one-month checkup. Researchers also noted that those given clindamycin had much lower levels of butyrate, a fatty acid responsible for fighting inflammation, carcinogenesis, and oxidative stress in the stomach. Despite changes the antibiotics caused in the gut, researchers observed that participants’ oral bacteria levels replenished fairly quickly.
Interestingly enough, though both groups contained antibiotic-resistant genes prior to the study, subsequent analysis showed an increased presence of these genes after participants were given antibiotics.
So next time you have a cold, flu or any illness caused by a virus (antibiotics only work against bacteria), don’t despair. Instead of heading to the doctor for more of the same, try opting for a natural remedy instead.